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SummaryProbably the best AD&D game of the classic era of any platform.
The GoodIn the 80s, TSR's Dungeons & Dragons game hit its high point in pop culture. The RPG was riding high on its popular Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings which were spun into popular book settings. Plus with a cartoon series, toy line and even a mention in the begining of the movie E.T., D&D had never been so mainstream.
Pool of Radiance was the first serious AD&D computer adaption, several video games had been made on early systems like the Intellivison but none were really faithful to the rules or had much in the way of RPG aspects to the games. It also was set in the most popular AD&D setting, the Forgotten Realms, so the game flew of the shelves in the late 80s and for good reason, this is an excellent game.
In it you start off with a 6 player party (up to 8 with NPCs) of your standard D&D classes who are out to seek their fortune in the rebuilding of the city of Phlan. Which was once a great city state before being sacked by the army of Tyranthaxus decades earlier.
The game revolves around a series of 'commisions' given to you by the council of New Phlan to do various deeds for them, usually the clearing of blocks of the monster infested city. You have the choice of following up on these commisions or setting out on your own to do your own thing. This non-linear aspect of the game is one of its strongest appeals for me.
The game takes place mainly in city blocks using the standard 1st person perspective of the time popular in other RPGs like Bards Tale or Might & Magic. There is a small wilderness area to explore too, which is traveled in a top down view of the map. Combat was an attempt to simulate the use of metal minatures that could be used with the paper and dice game. It was quite an improvment over other combat systems of the time with many tactical aspects. You'd move your characters around the combat area, performing flanking manouvers and defending bottlenecks or setting up an safe area for your archers to attack. Combat was the usual way to solve problems but there was the occasional option to complete objects non-violently or at least use stealth before you butchered your enemies.
The game also has a good plot as you unravel the mystery of who is "The Boss"? As you explore the city you will find scraps of information on him and the history of the city and the strength of his realm. That mystery aspect really enhanced what was your standard "kill Foozle" RPG plot.
The BadAs much as I love this game, it is not without its flaws. The biggest one was how some battles involved your party fighting a virtual army of bad guys. Often dozens and dozens of orcs and goblins came at you. This made for many very long battles. I recently played the NES version of this game and they appeared to have cut down the numbers in it to make the battles less time consuming. The NES version also eliminated the multiple units of coins making it all gold, with the computer versions dealing with piles of coppers, silvers, gold and platinums is a bit unneccessary.
Being faithful to the D&D rules meant that spell casters were useless for a long time as they could only memorize a few spells and had a limited selection to use, most people got around this by making them multi-classed fighter-magic users.
Another beef with the faithful rules is how in order to determine which items are magic you have to cast a detect magic spell, if you didn't have the spell ready then you had to haul around a lot of gear or risk losing a precious magic item.
There is also a rather deadly battle with Trolls and Ogres in the early part of the game which is very challenging for new party. Be sure to stand on the squares of the fallen trolls or they will regenerate.
Do the limitations of the time, much of the plot in the game is propelled by text read in a seperate manual. While I don't have a problem with those old paragraph books, a cut scene or two would really have enhanced the movement of the story.